- Morgan Overholt is the founder and owner of Morgan Media LLC, a graphic design agency, and brings in $300,000 in revenue and $200,000 in take-home pay.
- Downtime created by the coronavirus pandemic is a great time to bolster your business, she says.
- Put your slow days to work by learning new skills to kickstart or improve your small business, or update your marketing materials to attract new clients.
- Consider creating new revenue streams to tack onto your current services and take time to invest in yourself.
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As someone whose business was literally born from a hobby, I firmly believe in the power of putting your downtime to work — and turning playtime into profits.
Before becoming the six-figure freelancer and small-business owner I am today, I was a geeky teenager hogging the family LAN line while learning how to design and build a custom GeoCities website. (It was a “Harry Potter” fansite. I was, and still am, obsessed with the book series.)
I would occasionally get in trouble with my parents for spending “too much time on the computer.” But unbeknownst to all of us, I was actually teaching myself the design and computer skills which would become a business generating almost $300,000 in annual revenue.
At a very early age, I learned that great power lies in the ability to invest in yourself and pursue your passions — which is why I’ve spent the entirety of my professional career constantly growing and using my “downtime” to do so.
My team and I have fortunately not been significantly impacted by the effects of COVID-19, but we have seen a few more slow days than normal.
Unfortunately, many of my peers have had it far worse — experiencing a significant decline in business, being furloughed, or losing their jobs entirely. Others are simply finding themselves with an unusual amount of spare time, or feeling an incredible amount of uncertainty about the future.
I’ve always believed it’s possible to turn these scarier moments in our lives into opportunity. Downtime gives me a chance to reinvent myself, invest in my business, or even create something new.
Here are a few real-life examples of how I’ve used my downtime to reinvest in myself and my business and put my slow days back to work.
I taught myself the skills needed to start and grow my business
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own business, you may never get an opportunity like this again.
People always say to me that they would love to start a business like mine, but that comment is usually followed by a list of excuses including, but not limited to:
- I can’t afford to learn graphic design
- It’s impossible to find clients
- I don’t know how to market myself
To which I normally reply:
- I’m self taught
- I’m self taught
- I’m self taught
I taught myself most of what I know about graphic design with free tutorials online. I knew nothing about client acquisition or how to market myself when I was first starting out, so I read blogs and books on the topic and simply experimented with different techniques until I found a strategy that worked.
People mistakenly believe that a lack of professional training is a barrier to entry. And graphic design isn’t the only career you can learn on your own without a professional degree or certification. You may also want to consider:
- Social media management
- Search engine optimization
- User experience
- Ecommerce and retail sales
With spare time amid the outbreak, you can learn how to excel at any of these skills. I started my business as a part-time freelancer working nights and weekends to build up the client base, skills, and experience I needed to turn it into a full-time career. When I left my last salaried position, I was making $75,000 per year. Today, I make more than double that amount (with a top line revenue of almost $300,000 and a take-home of nearly $200,000) from the business I started with some good old-fashioned hard work and hustle.
I look for additional revenue streams
I’m always thinking about new ways to add additional revenue streams to the company.
This task is a bit easier said than done, as you never want to pull yourself in too many directions or take too much time away from your core business. That’s why I try to select projects that I know will mostly run themselves after putting in the initial time and/or financial investment, or will ultimately enhance the services I already offer.
For example, when I first started out in graphic design, the majority of my revenue came from just a handful of design contracts. Today, I’ve expanded into multiple revenue streams — from multiple sources and sectors of my business.
Having multiple revenue streams is not only a great way to earn some extra cash, but also it builds in a bit of extra security; if any one of these income sources dissipates, I still have others to lean on.
My monthly revenue streams currently include:
- Self-acquired graphic design contracts (average of $10,000 a month)
- Graphic design contracts on Upwork (average of $14,000 a month)
- Rent from my commercial office space (average of $1,500 a month)
- Blogging and writing (average of $1,000 a month)
And most of these additional revenue streams were acquired by putting in the legwork on my downtime.
When I originally set out to purchase an office space for myself, I was really just looking for a way out of overpaying for my tiny colab space. I quickly realized with my ability to design and market myself it would be much more profitable to purchase a space large enough to accommodate myself and a handful of other tenants.
(Full disclosure, my office space was the hardest hit during this pandemic because of the Florida government nonessential business shutdown. We had to close our doors on March 18 but plan to open again soon.)
I’ve also established a small additional income through writing and blogging about my freelance journey.
I started by writing a bit in my spare time on my own blog while occasionally submitting articles to more established brands and publications for consideration.
Projects like these are perfect for my small business because I am able to utilize the skills and resources I already have to generate extra income while simultaneously enhancing the core company.
I challenge myself and my team to learn new trades
I am a big believer in personal growth. I see each skill in my and my team’s arsenal as a mini superpower.
Every skill we acquire is a new service we can offer to our clients. Which is why, every time we find ourselves with a spare moment, we try to focus on education and training.
Some of our favorite resources include:
- Adobe tutorials and training
- LinkedIn Learning
These resources have helped us expand our services to include compliance and PDF tagging, social media marketing and management, and WordPress development and design.
Free advice is also hugely important to tap into: For instance, I learned how to grow this Facebook page from 500 likes to over 8,000 likes in two weeks using the advice from a Forbes article. Paid courses like those I’ve mentioned above can be great resources, but nothing beats free — and there are tons of professionals across fields online who are willing to share their stories and expertise.
I update my portfolio and marketing materials
Let’s be honest, updating your professional website and marketing materials can feel like a chore.
But no matter what industry you’re in, maintaining an up-to-date website, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio is crucial when it comes to winning work and making professional connections.
Whenever I find myself with a spare moment, I re-evaluate and update materials, including my website, portfolio, proposal templates, cover letters, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
An impressive portfolio will improve your ability to attract quality clients. It’s the first thing they’re looking at when trying to figure out whether or not they are going to hire you. Everything else is secondary to the quality of work you can produce, so your portfolio and proposals need to speak for themselves.
Earlier this year, I dedicated almost an entire week of my time to converting each item in my portfolio into a 3D style mockup, resulting in an almost immediate uptick in work. My clients frequently comment that they find the 3D mockups helpful.
I also found that the new and improved portfolio was easier to send and view from a functional standpoint. I’ve easily shaved off 10 minutes or more of my time every time I click send with these templates.
If you or your business have experienced downtime during the past couple months, start viewing that time as an opportunity for growth instead of as a setback. Remember, investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make.